Is Thumb-Sucking Okay?!

This past month, there has been an interesting study published and reported all over the news (feeds) about the benefits of thumb-sucking for children, including a 30-40% reduction in various allergies developed among New Zealand kids. Parents receiving bits of the information have been asking us lately if it is really okay for their children to suck their thumb and how will it affect their teeth going forward?

Abraham Orthodontics

As one of my favorite professors from dental school at Western would say to almost every question, “it depends.”

Infants begin to suck their thumb or fingers early on, some even start in the womb! It is a natural reflex and quite normal and common among infants, according to the American Dental Association, as it provides a sense of security and contentment for the developing child. It also can be relaxing for younger children, usually if paired with soft toys or more commonly, blankets (or just the tag!) especially in the late-hours before bed. The habit tends to prolong when pacifier use has ended prematurely and is thus replaced with a thumb or finger habit.

So if this is natural, and there is a chance it may reduce the chance of allergies through adulthood, why stop?

We have concerns once the permanent teeth begin to erupt, around the age of 5 years old.

Thumb habits usually stop on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. It is up to the discretion of the child’s parents of how or if they would want to address it during these years. From a orthodontic and dental standpoint, any changes to the teeth, if any, are reversible in the primary or baby teeth. We have orthodontic and dental concerns once the permanent teeth begin to erupt, around the age of 5 years old.

Three things typically happen facially and dentally past this age, most requiring orthodontic treatment to correct.

  1. Open bite of the front teeth
  2. Narrowing/constriction of the upper jaw
  3. Flaring and spacing of the upper front teeth and tipping back and crowding of the lower front teeth

Kingsville Orthodontist Leamington Orthodontist

It is our recommendation that by the time the permanent teeth erupt, the thumb-sucking habit should be ceased. It is important that this is done gradually and the reasons for prolonged thumb-sucking (ie. comfort, security) are replaced or met.

Some common tips provided by the ADA:

  • Praise your child for not sucking. Avoid scolding or punishing.
  • Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or needing comfort. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
  • For an older child, involve him or her in choosing the method of stopping. Charts and calendars work great with unplanned rewards!
  • Your orthodontist or dentist can offer encouragement to your child and explain what could happen to their teeth if they do not stop sucking.

If these tips don’t work, remind the child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. As most instances occur at night, holding the hand during bedtime routine until they fall asleep can also help.

We always begin with non-invasive solutions like those above, and we work with many families to provide in-home solutions. In the event that these don’t work, we provide appliances placed in the mouth as an aid only if: we exhausted all other options, the child wants to stop, and they are old enough to understand that is to help them stop the habit and it is not punishment.

In summary, we do not have any permanent dental or orthodontic concerns about thumb-sucking before the the permanent teeth come in as any changes that do occur are mostly reversible. Parents can decide if this is something want to address. After the age of 5, the effects on the permanent teeth and jaw may require orthodontic treatment to correct.

Prevention is always our favourite solution.

We offer complimentary exams for all children and adults. Parents in all of our communities we serve, especially in Kingsville and Leamington ON, have been resonating well with the need for an orthodontic exam by 7-years-old. Book your child’s free exam today, 519-398-8101, especially if you have any concerns or questions about thumb-sucking or any other habits.

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